Both need to stand out to make the cut.

We’ve just completed a round of recruitment. Within a couple of weeks of posting our advert on a popular job site, we had received well over 100 applications. Some were good, but many of them made pretty basic errorserrors that we also see marketers make when communicating with their customers. So we’ve identified some basic lessons worth remembering next time you come to write a sales letter, draft a presentation… or indeed apply for a job.

Error 1: Putting no effort in

It’s the unforgivable sin: using a copy-and-pasted covering letter. We had at least a dozen applicants that didn’t include a covering letter at all, and we saw dozens of these:

Dear Sir / Madam,

Please find attached to this email, a copy of my CV, for your kind consideration. I feel I would be an excellent candidate for your above vacancy as it closely matches my skills and experience. I look forward to hearing from you. 

Yours sincerely, applicant X

Seriously? You’re applying for a job without mentioning the name of the company, the name of the recruiter, the position you’re applying for, or any of the skills, experience or qualities we’re looking for? You’re not going to make me feel valued? You’re not going to try to make yourself stand out? Well, your choice. Delete.

Lesson: if you’re going to pursue a sale, or indeed apply for a job, do a bit of research first. Personalise your application. Show me that you want my business (or job) and that you’re different.

Error 2: Me, me, me

We also got a lot of applicants saying, basically, “I want this job because it really interests me”. Well, that’s great, but what can you offer us? We definitely want a candidate with enthusiasm and desire, but most important is the ability to do the job that we’re advertising.

Lesson: as marketers, you should always start with what your audience wants. Make them feel valued, and show how you’re meeting their needsdon’t start with what they can do for you!

Error 3: The (pretentious) kitchen sink

Some of the covering letters and CVs we received were enormously long. They included every activity the applicant had ever done, everywhere they’d been on holiday, and every skill and personal quality you can imagine. This created two problems:

First, it was really hard work to find the specific skills and experience we were looking for in the list.

Lesson: make it easy for your customer (or recruiter). Keep it short, and keep it focused, and think about structure. Unless it’s relevant, I don’t need to know that you are a trained scuba-diving instructor. In marketing, think about whether that deck really needs to be 60 slides.

Second, it made us doubt whether they were telling the truth. When applicants say that they are both great team players and excellent at working on their own, we wonder whether they might be exaggerating a little.

Lesson: tell the truth, and include evidence. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Error 4: Big words, spelled badly

Many of our applicants used all the high-falutin’ jargon under the sun. Recruitment buzzwords like “dynamic”, for a start, but in general it looked like they’d run amok in a thesaurus. Unfortunately, these same applicants often didn’t know how to use, or even spell, the big words correctly. But the bigger problem was that the complex language got in the way of what they were trying to communicate. There may have been great content underneath, but after wading through overblown treacle for half a page, we just weren’t sure. The covering letters would have had much more impact if they’d been short, simple and to the point. All too often, applicants (and companies) hide behind big words when they’re not confident about what they’re saying, or they use jargon simply to impress.

Lesson: keep it simple. And run a spellcheck.

The final word

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We had some great applicants who included smart, well-structured CVs and engaging, compelling covering letters. One particularly impressed us. Charley’s covering letter was particularly imaginative and really got our attention and her experience was a perfect match for what we were looking for. And when we met her we knew that she’d fit in perfectly. So we snapped her up and now she’s using those marketing skills for the benefit of our clients.

Posted by John on 5 April 2012